Listening to reports of your child being made fun of, picked on, or quietly ignored, is difficult for even the most stoic of parents. Childhood friendships, though they may seem simple to adults, are as full of intrigue and drama as a daytime soap opera: one day the girl next door is your daughter’s best friend, while the next day she is her worst enemy.
Most parents, however, can console themselves with the knowledge that those bumps are only temporary.
However, if your child has trouble making and keeping friends, watching your child navigate the waters at the playground or local schoolyard can be devastating. You want your child to be successful and to be happy, and you’d do anything to help them. But making and keeping friends is something that unfortunately, you have very little control of.
Or do you?
Children with LD tend to be unaware of how their actions affect others.
Joining in a group of other children is something that occurs dozens of times a day. Waiting at the bus stop for the school bus, walking through the schoolyard on the way into school, joining a game during recess – these are all common pitfalls that many children face, and fail.
Many children with language development weaknesses or ADHD tend to barge into group, without taking note of what effect their arrival has on the group. In addition, they tend to respond to anxiety and fear with a need to control the situation. So they might try and control the situation by introducing a new topic suddenly, not letting others have their say, or talking about subjects that are uninteresting for the rest of the group.
Teach your child how to join a group of children successfully.
You can help your child make a tremendous leap in her social skills simply by teaching her to “stop and look” before she enters a group. Explain to her that before she joins a group of children, she should stop and look to see what they’re doing. Do they look like they wouldn’t mind if someone else joined their group? Or do they look like they want privacy?
Teach her how to recognize the nonverbal body language that shows whether or not they’d be welcome. Then practice with her at home, using role-playing to help her get the idea of things. You can also decide together on a special word or signal that you can give her that will let her know when she needs to step back and take a better look at things.
Learn from the popular kids.
Studies show that the most popular children join a group unobtrusively, then look to see how they can help. If children are at the beach busy building a monster sand castle, they’ll be the ones offering to bring more water – usually a job no one wants to do, but a necessary one.
Asking if they can help, and giving a suggestion as to what they’d be willing to do, are both subtle, but very powerful ways of being socially successful. Asking to help before you barge in shows that you recognize they are in charge, and states that you’re not interested in grabbing power for yourself.
Offering a specific type of help, especially one that no one really wants, demonstrates that you’re truly willing to help out the group for the sake of the group itself, and not because you want all the glory.
Have your child practice being a “helper.”
Next time you go to the park or other public place with your child, have your child sit with you and look at the various groups around them. Help her examine the nonverbal cues of each group, and ask her to guess whether or not the group would mind if someone joins them.
Next, encourage her to describe to you what they’re doing, and give an example of how they could be a helper.
If your child has siblings, you can practice this skill at home with her sisters and brothers. If not, then perhaps you can make a playdate with the children of a good friend or family member. If you can, try letting your child practice these skills with children who are a year or two younger.
These three skills are part of the foundation of building friendships. Practicing them regularly with your child will give them a much better chance at making and keeping friends.